Completing the circle
What would our world of high-end audio look like if there were only active wireless loudspeakers? If even the half a million dollar mega-beasts were internally amplified and connected via wireless and controlled from an iPad?
No more boxes. No more wires and cables.
Would we have come full circle, back to the days when music reproduction systems were self-contained?
Would this mark the end of separates and their interconnections?
What would the next generation of sound reproduction systems look like? (Probably nothing because by then they’ll likely be invisible.)
If we look back over the past 142 years since Edison introduced the phonograph there is a clear pattern. All-in-one audio systems grow and grow until they explode into a multiverse of separates then contract back into a new version of the all-in-one.
The circle is complete.
Telling the future isn’t all that hard if you take a look at the past.
After reading yesterday’s post, I am reminded of my fascination with third-party endorsements.
We trust the words of disinterested parties more than the folks who actually have a deeper knowledge of a given subject.
We are suspicious of an audio or video designer’s enthusiasm because we fear he has an axe to grind.
This notion of distrust has its roots buried deep in our culture. The first mention I could find was from the early 1800s when author Charles Miner recounted an incident from his youth, where a passing stranger takes advantage of him and, by flattering him, dupes him into turning a grindstone to sharpen the stranger’s axe. Miner then uses having an axe to grind as a metaphor for having an ulterior motive:
“When I see a man holding a fat office, sounding ‘the horn on the borders’ to call the people to support the man on whom he depends for his office. Well, thinks I, no wonder the man is zealous in the cause, he evidently has an axe to grind.”
Stories of people taking advantage of other people abound, but I think we do ourselves an injustice by always taking the cynical view.
Not all people with direct knowledge are looking to wrangle freebies out of us. In fact, most aren’t.
I’ll share with you what I do to ferret out the truth. If a knowledgeable source is recommending their own solution I drill down to see how deep their knowledge base is. That tells me from where they are coming from: deep knowledge and experience or light fluff.
In today’s world of person-to-person connection, I think it’s important to readjust our barometers.
It’s easier than ever to dig deep into people’s knowledge and motivations.
The problem with opinions
A recent YouTube comment is worth reprinting.
“If you can’t audition, watch as many audio or video reviews as you can. The reviewers will be your eyes and ears. Examine the comments sections to see what others may think. There are a whole bunch of audio reviews on YouTube to help you make better informed decisions on what to buy.”
Good and reasonable advice except for one thing. How do you match someone else’s opinion with your own?
This is a classic problem and one of the reasons I never pay attention to Yelp or movie reviews. What’s the likelihood our tastes match each other?
I am a vegetarian who does not like most fast food and rarely the fair that comes out of commercial kitchens. How does the opinion of someone with unknown tastes bear any relevance to me?
I love rich, detailed, full-bodied stereo systems. How does the opinion of someone who prefers lean, over-etched, emasculated bass matter to me?
People like us prefer the same sorts of things. The problem is, how do we align our tastes to each other?
This issue is likely why we hang out with like-minded people, read the same sorts of information, visit the same places, watch the same movies, and buy similar stereo equipment.
The influencers in our lives are important hand selected assets even if we use them to know what not to buy.
Opinions matter only if you know where they come from.
Equipment that makes you forget
The best stereo equipment I know is forgettable.
When everything’s just right I don’t think about the audio or video system, only the music.
We work so hard to make products that are both remarkable and iconic. Yet, when they do their job, the best we can hope is for them to disappear.
Imagine designing an automobile, computer, or some new piece of techie gear in the hopes people will ignore it. Seems crazy, yet that’s exactly what audio designers do.
Fact is, we’re proudest when we see toes tapping, smiles breaking, and eyes closed in response to the music.
We hope our products are forgettable.
It’s the music we want you to remember.
It’s remarkable how easy it is to get a little piece of information and turn that into an all inclusive proclamation. Dark clouds on the horizon mean rain. Hospitals are full of sick people, therefore hospitals make people sick. Lots of people bought this album, so it must be good.
One of my favorites is “transistors are switches, therefore they do not make good analog amplifiers”. Or, its cousin “Vacuum tubes are valves, therefore they’re best for making amplifiers”.
We get hopelessly mired in prejudice for or against a particular concept when we form our opinions based on partially correct information. It’s true transistors can be used as switches and it is also true vacuum tubes act as valves. But we can also flip the words around and have exactly the same meaning.
The very first digital computers were built from vacuum tube valves used as switches (which is where the term “bugs” came from).
There’s plenty of reasons why transistors sound the way they do compared to vacuum tubes and vice versa.
Ascribing incorrect information to them doesn’t help our understanding and discovery of the real culprits at play.
Stupid vs Ignorant. This brings certain political figures to mind..
Stupid vs. ignorant
Ok, file this post under Paul’s Pet Peeve department.
In reading comments on YouTube and even our forums, why is it some call others “stupid” when they don’t see eye to eye?
The dictionary defines stupid as: “having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense” and I don’t think most people actually believe others are “stupid” in a literal sense. It’s likely an angry outburst from our lizard brain, the Amygdala.
I believe there is a difference between stupid and ignorant.
Ignorance is a lack of knowledge.
I am ignorant of all sorts of things and happily admit it.
Who among us isn’t delighted to share our knowledge and teach someone something they’re hoping to learn? To me, teaching and sharing knowledge is one of the great joys in my life.
Surely it’s not you calling others stupid. But, the next time you read that word or hear that phrase, maybe take a minute to gently remind the other person that it’s neither productive nor all that difficult to suppress the urge to lash out.
If we can generously help another learn something we already have mastered, there’s no greater gift I can think of.
One of the biggest temptations for audio or video designers and customers alike is the addition of options. Options, options, options. How can you have too many options?
You know when you have too many options when using a product becomes daunting. JRiver Media Center is a good example. I can barely get music to play without having first spent half an hour wading through the setup options. Yet, once going it’s a fine program.
As a user, I want lots of options but only if they’re buried deep into the product. When I first fire up a piece of kit or a program, it should just work right out of the box. Later, if the urge strikes, I can delve into the secondary layers of options that cleverly lie underneath the surface.
As designers, options are a true double-edged sword. Committing to a product without options means you’ve not only thought through what’s needed (and not needed) but you’re so confident in those choices you’re willing to be rejected by potential customers who expected a feature or function that’s unavailable. And, on the flipside, building in options increases the workload rather dramatically. Just imagine the hours of programming required to add the option of input naming: building a virtual keyboard, figuring out how to access it, allowing for mistaken entries, setting limits on character lengths, storing and retrieving the data, editing.
We can’t make products with so many options they make everyone happy, yet we have to offer enough that the product fulfills its purpose.
My preference has always leaned towards purpose-built products where the designer takes a stand and puts their name on the product. “This is what I would want in my home”.
Of course, the alternative might just be a full-featured option-rich entry from Lirpa Labs!
Wait. I missed April 1.
Is it live or…
Ad slogans that work are the ones most memorable, the ones we talk about like those from Geico or the older ones from cassette tape manufacturer Memorex.
I haven’t thought of the slogan “Is it live or Memorex” for some time but, aside from the memories of a bygone era it brings back, I remain enamored with the goal of the ad: To get people believing reproduced audio sound was so good there’s no difference between live or recorded.
Of course, that’s just an ad and in hindsight, we can snicker at how preposterous the premise is. I am not sure when the last time you heard a cassette tape deck through vintage 1970s equipment but live it ain’t!
What’s more interesting to me is not what the Madison Avenue advertising execs were trying to get us to believe but how they did it—not with the classic listener at a concert but by shattering glass.
In 1971 Memorex ad people hired singer Ella Fitzgerald to hit exactly the right note to shatter a glass. In the commercials, she would sing that note that shattered a glass while being recorded to a Memorex audio cassette. The tape was played back and the recording also broke the glass, asking “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”
While I am pretty certain a sustained frequency of enough amplitude would shatter any glass, even if it wasn’t sung by Ella, the idea was nothing short of brilliant.
I wonder how many folks got the idea that recorded sound could rival live music from those commercials (and their follow up with the guy’s hair blown back in the chair) and how many of them turned into audiophiles.
After all, we’re interested in the very same things the folks at Memorex wanted us to believe.
Only, I think we’ve come a long way baby!
Ripping sound from the box
When Darren Myers and I were working on the AN3 speaker prototype loudspeaker one of the many challenges came from the midrange. As those who have watched the video series on building the AN3 prototypes know, we went through several midrange drivers to get what we wanted.
What we didn’t talk about was the struggle to rip the sound out of the speaker box and get it away from the cabinet.
I am somewhat of an evangelist when it comes to the need to detach sound from the speaker cabinets. On all but a few of the worst recordings, music should never sound as if it is emanating from the speaker cabinet itself. Instead, it should be divorced from the box and float behind, above, and to the sides of the stereo setup. This extraction from the box creates what we have come to call the soundstage.
As speaker designers, one of the bigger challenges is working the crossover to make this happen. The prototype AN3 used a BG Neo 10 ribbon for the midrange. This is a great driver but it is exceptionally sensitive to how it is crossed over, implemented, and working with the cabinet and other drivers. Though its response looked marvelous on the test equipment, try as we might we could not get the sound to leave the confines of the speaker’s baffle.
Over the course of days, we managed to figure it out and were able to not only extricate it from its cabinet prison but maneuver it right where we wanted in the ethereal soundstage. It had been freed from its cabinet.
The reason I bring this up is that it should be no surprise that some speakers don’t have the ability to produce sound detached from the box. Not that we are such great designers but it is likely not part of the other designer’s ethos.
If you’re not looking for something it’s hard to see.
I imagine designers have all measure of goals for their speakers.
It’s up to the potential buyer to decide if their goals line up with those of the designer.
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I’ve got one of these and music sounds great in my dedicated listening room. Does it help? I don’t know as Im not unplugging it!!
The Schumann Resonance of the Earth is reported to be a very low 7.83Hz. If you duplicate this audio frequency major benefits to your health, sleep habits and stereo system are said to take place.
You can spend $50 and have your own if you wish.
As a natural skeptic, I surprised myself several years ago by accepting one of these devices as a gift and trying it out for an extended period of time in Music Room One. In or out I could not tell any difference in how I felt or how the system sounded. The kind person who donated the device to me wasn’t offended nor surprised, though he claimed major benefits for his system and his sleep patterns.
What’s plain and obvious to me may not resonate (not to make a pun) with you. That’s something we all have to respect because we’re all so very different from each other as are our circumstances. Yet, we seek confirmation and agreement with others.
It’s not comfortable standing out on the ledge of uncertainty with our ideas and observations. If we discover a hidden truth it’s not something we eagerly share unless we can be guaranteed some measure of acceptance by the group.
I believe this tendency must go back as far in our DNA history as anything essential to our health and well being. After all, if you were the only one with the idea to eat the brightly colored mushroom the others in your tribe would reach consensus as they lowered you into the ground.
It is safer today to express opinions and try new ideas than ever before and hopefully we can all be accepting of those new visions.
Some of the most important revelations in my life came from being just brave enough to try something new.
But I only eat mushrooms from the market.